In Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Gandalf says:

Five-and-forty leagues as the crow flies we have come, though many long miles further our feet have walked.

What is five-and-forty? Is it really the same thing as German fünfundvierzig? Can I use it for any other number or is it just for forty five? And where and when this form will be appropriate?

  • 1
    That form is intentionally old-fashioned aiming for quaintness. It's not how speakers talk on the street. It would fly in an historical novel, or a fantasy set in the past, or coming from the mouth of a fire-and-brimstone preacher perhaps, who spends a lot of time with the King James version of the bible.
    – TimR
    Sep 30, 2016 at 9:20
  • Of course it is, the question is can I say “two and forty” for quaintness? ;) Sep 30, 2016 at 10:03
  • 2
    It's only appropriate if you's as old as Gandalf. Sep 30, 2016 at 11:39
  • 1
    @Vadim: Thou mayest.
    – TimR
    Sep 30, 2016 at 12:17

1 Answer 1


You can say numbers this way if you wish.

It is considered old-fashioned, even archaic to say numbers this way in English. It does persist, often for more poetic uses. Children (British ones at least) are still taught the nursery rhyme Five and Twenty Blackbirds, baked in a pie

This format was much more common fifty or so years ago. That would put it more into Tolkein's time.

My Grandmother and her siblings all spoke numbers this way - not just five and ... but any number. They were Irish, but I can't vouch for if the construction was more prevalent in Ireland than elsewhere.

  • +1 except that saying "the format was much more common fifty or so years ago" can make it seem to the non-native learner that fifty years ago everyone was going around saying five and forty, which is clearly not the case. For instance Tolkien did not use it because it was more common in his day (it wasn't, outside of the Ireland you speak of); he used it to adopt a different manner for Gandalf to speak (perhaps in a more "Germanic" or Old-English manner, as opposed to a modern, or even Anglo-Norman manner). Sep 30, 2016 at 12:49
  • I don't mean everyone was saying it then. Just noticeably more people than do now. And, yes, I expect Tolkein was playing up the antiquity for literary effect.
    – Chenmunka
    Sep 30, 2016 at 12:50
  • "Four score and seven years ago..." - Abraham Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address. It definitely sounds more poetic to a native U.S. speaker - but it's also easily understood, and not unheard of.
    – Ghotir
    Sep 30, 2016 at 13:47

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